CHARLOTTE – After scratching and clawing their way to the past two NCHSAA 3A swimming and diving championships, the Charlotte Catholic girls left no doubt as they raced past the field to win their third straight title on Feb. 8.
After also dominating at the regional meet a week earlier, Cougars coach Tim Berens had a pretty good feeling heading into the state meet.
“I knew if we just swam and didn’t get any major DQs in the relays, we’d have a really good shot at winning and I thought the girls understood that, too,” he said. “We told them to go out there, swim and have fun.”
The Cougars did that, swimming their way to a statement-making 372-220.5 win over Marvin Ridge, the next-closest 3A competitor.
Berens credits most of the leadership and meet preparation to his seniors, notably Maddie McFee, Victoria Dichak and Abigail Parks. He said they were critical in preparing several freshmen including Sydney Sanders, Sarah Dichak, Julia Gehrig, Leyla Sleime and Mededith Bush, who all scored points at the state meet.
And, those seniors have been around, knowing what it’s like to celebrate a title.
Berens said when Olivia Rhodes, Hope Borders, Parks and Alina Stout swam 1:34.30 to break the 200 freestyle relay 3A record set last year by Weddington, the girls got a sense the rout was in full effect.
“That was probably the loudest of any time in the building,” he said. “They got very loud, and I think at that point they knew it was on.”
Individually, the Cougars got a gold medal from Rhodes in the 50 freestyle, as she edged Stout by 0.25 seconds.
Madeline Menkhaus also won gold, taking the 100 butterfly title for the Cougars.
In addition, Charlotte Catholic got individual runner-up performances from Menkhaus (200 IM), Stout (100 freestyle) Sleime (500 freestyle) and a third-place finish from Rhodes (100 freestyle).
Along with the record-holding 200 relay, the Cougars dominated all three team events.
Stout, Victoria Dichak, Menkhaus and Parks topped the podium in the 400 freestyle relay and Catholic was also second in the 200 medley relay with Menkhaus, McFee, Victoria Dichak and Rhodes completing the dominant meet.
“They did incredible the past two weeks,” Berens said. “Those were some lifetime-best times those weeks, so it was insane what they were able to accomplish. They were all having fun the whole time, and the energy they were feeding off was insane. It happened in back-to-back weekends, and I couldn’t believe it.”
Berens had been an assistant on the last of the Charlotte Catholic’s remarkable 14-straight state title run that ended in 2016.
He has now been the head coach each of the past three championship seasons.
Curious, he wanted to look back at the performance his team had just put together. He said other teams may have won more individual titles, but this one may go down as one of the best over the past decade or two to don the Catholic swim cap.
And he knows that means something as the Cougars will look to reload once again. Rhodes and Menkhaus are both just juniors, so they’ll be back atop the Cougars lineup. They also just got scoring swims from five freshmen including Sleime, the state runner-up in the 500 freestyle.
“It’s a big deal to be a part of it and to win all of these state titles,” Berens said. “They work hard for it. It doesn’t just come easy. It’s incredible to see what they were able to do.
“You know when you come to Catholic you have a very good history of winning state titles and you basically don’t go four years without winning one. That means a lot.”
Boys come close
The Cougar boys placed third (213 points) in the state behind Chapel Hill (266) and Marvin Ridge (254), who had won the past three titles.
Charlotte Catholic got an individual state title from Alec Hubbard in the 1-meter diving and a win from Jack Meehan, who took gold in the 100 backstroke.
Charlotte Catholic got runner-up performances from Meehan (200 IM) and third-place finishes from John Gehrig (200 freestyle and 500 freestyle).
The team of Gehrig, Meehan, Charlie Clickner and Patrick Duffy placed second in the 200 medley relay and third in the 400 freestyle relay with Meehan, Gehrig, Jude Denton and Bryson Mrzygod.